7 Ways to Be Nice (to yourself)
Mental health has always been crucial to the way I view myself as an individual, as well as how I relate to the world. Furthermore, I see my mental health journey as the changes in my psychological state over time with the good the bad and everything in between. This process has involved many days when I felt like it was over but also days when I felt like I was overflowing with happiness. Therefore, mental health is not static, for everyone it is an ongoing process involving the emotional, the social and the psychological.
What complicates mental health on a personal level is that we are often blinded to the comfort we find in certain patterns of behavior that are often toxic, that may be holding us back. For me, negative patterns of thinking included rationalizing situations in order to give up, and feeling like issues were impossible to solve. This habit of underestimating myself, and others, affected both my academic and personal life. It made me react badly to new situations that I realise were necessary for growth not designed for my failure. It is easy to see the ways in which those thoughts limited my sense of agency and self-confidence. Now I make a conscious decision to approach situations as positively as I can, being kinder to myself.
In addition, it is clear to see that the lived experience of mental illness is also strained by the stigmatization of mental illness. In Nigeria particularly, mental health has always been a taboo topic until recent increases in suicide rates, especially among teenagers. Though we have a long way to go, it is encouraging to see more discussions among individuals, especially parents who reacted to the topic with denial and dismissal. I have always struggled with feelings of anxiety despite never being formally diagnosed with a clinical illness. Some of the specific emotions or though patterns include ‘Why am I here?’ ‘I don’t deserve anything’ ‘No one appreciates me’ or ‘I can’t’. My experience with anxiety is inextricably linked to my identity as a black woman and the way in which society burdens our identity and denies us emotion. It varies from fears of dropping things, to fears about my academic and personal life. It is easy to feel like everything is a problem including yourself but I have learned to deal with this by accepting myself and focusing on improvement rather than holding on to the past.
My identity plays a role in this; black women are often characterized as strong, bold and resilient. Though this may not appear harmful at first, it is a limiting vision of a versatile identity to which so many women belong. Furthermore, society’s vision of mental health is white-washed and black women are subtly denied their humanity by not being represented in the mainstream media for having mental health issues. But black women obviously struggle with mental health along their journey and within our communities more awareness needs to be placed on this. Personally, as a soft-spoken individual I have struggled with this stereotyping especially within the Nigerian context where gentleness is equated to weakness. Therefore people have tried to make me feel bad for who I am in the past but I have learned not to associate that with myself but be proud in my identity and what I have to offer the world.
Therefore, negative thought patterns can be relentless and make it difficult to be kind to yourself. Therefore, in this bitter-sweet journey of mental health, we all need to put systems in place to make things that little bit more bearable. For me, the systems I put in place enable me to lift myself out of the negativity and regain direction. For me, these systems include a number of things that are easily overlooked but help me to be kinder to myself.
1. Remind yourself that you are worthy
Firstly, one of the things I am constantly reminding myself is my value as an individual to discourage unhealthy comparison with others. This also extends into the importance of not relying on external factors for self worth, whether grades, opportunities or physical appearance. Although this is difficult in an age of seeking instant validation through social media, looking inwards and encouraging yourself to do things for your personal growth helps to overcome that.
2. Find your quiet place
I meditate and pray regularly to find my quiet place to help me regain my sense of direction in terms of my short term goals as well as understanding myself better. I’m Catholic and often struggle with my faith but I try to reconnect with my inner self at the beginning or end of my day because I see prayer as an important part of my spirituality. Religion may seem contradictory to mental health especially in terms of the hypocrisy bred by institutions such as the church with myths about demonic possession or instant solutions to problems but I see my spiritual journey as personal and prayer is often a source of strength. If you’re not religious, then activities such as meditation, breathing exercises may help you. If not, there is always a benefit of finding quiet time for yourself doing whatever you find useful.
3. Do something else
Sometimes we can get lost in a task and it helps to distance yourself from it when you feel stuck, when you get back to the task you may feel more motivated. Or sometimes you just owe yourself more kindness to understand the limits to your energy and focus. Don’t procrastinate, but try to work hard without stressing yourself to exhaustion.
4. Set bitesize, do-able tasks
Don’t underestimate the time and effort necessary to complete taks, sometimes, taking enough time out to think things through makes all the difference. Also, when tasks are brought together under one event, procrastination is more harmful, as you haven’t given yourself enough time to breathe.
5. Talk to people that make an effort to understand you.
Sometimes we just need to be listened to and hopefully there will be someone to talk to it about. Humans are social beings and no matter how introverted you are, the process of having someone hear your problems, successes and frustrations can be very beneficial.
6. Choosing how to process the good and the bad
We have more power and agency over our behavior and thoughts than we think. Often when we have an intention over the things we do and the way we process thought, we feel more complete and confident in ourselves.
Overall, this is not a self help formula and I am aware of the fact that it might help you or it might not. Either way, sharing my journey is both a privilege and something I hope might help someone who might be going through a difficult time in their mental health journey.
7. Knowing you’re not alone
Because we all are going through things and some are slower to accepting it than others. Sometimes people’s negativity towards you is a projection of what they are going through and understanding this is empowering and freeing because you are responsible for nobody’s emotions but yours. It’s okay to struggle and you will have good days and bad days, trust the process and keep going because you owe yourself that much.